Or: Why I Haven’t Bought That Lotus Elise Yet.
One of the nice things about Singapore is that you don’t need to own a car. Taxi rates are dirt cheap, and the island is so small that you’ll hardly ever take any long trips. (The zoo: about $15. Anywhere in downtown: $7. Even the airport’s only $25 from the city.)
So I spend a lot of my time in the back of taxis. And here’s what taxi drivers have taught me about the road rules in Singapore:
- Contrary to popular belief, the lane markings are not there to drive between. They’re there to line up with the Mercedes star on the bonnet;
- Where there’s no speed limit sign, there’s no speed limit. This especially applies on Cecil Street, the five-lane arterial street right through the CBD, which seems to have a speed limit of 120;
- Queueing at taxi stands: when the sign says “Space for 1 Taxi”, this means that only one taxi can be in the space at any one time – but five or six can idle behind and beside it, snarling the two left-hand lanes for hundreds of metres;
- Mobile phone headsets are allowed, but must be used properly. Bluetooth headsets must be left under the driver’s side seat so that when the driver’s phone rings, he has to fish around for it under the seat, jam it in his ear, adjust it, and then answer the call. Wired headsets must be looped around the rear-view mirror; when a call comes in, the driver must unloop the headset, untangle it, jam it in his ear, adjust it, and then hold the microphone bit up to his mouth while talking and driving.
Some visitors to Singapore have asked me whether the blinkers on taxis are purely ornamental. This is a slight against taxi drivers, and I’ll hear none of it. The blinkers on taxis – in fact, on all Singaporean cars – are used to indicate that you’re driving straight ahead.
It’s also considered polite to turn your blinkers on half a kilometre before making a turn. Using them to indicate that you’re changing lanes, though, is strictly prohibited and nobody does it. (I’m not making that last bit up. On the way back from the airport this morning, my taxi was nearly sideswiped by an idiot in a silver Camry who changed lanes without indicating – or looking.)
And one special taxi rule: The Customer Is Always Right.
The driver will always ask you which route you want to take, even if you’re clearly a newbie tourist, a dog-tired expat who’s just been bundled off a plane at one in the morning, or on your way to work at the largest and most visible building in the CBD. This is in fact a geography quiz, part of a Singaporean government campaign to improve people’s general knowledge. If you don’t give the correct answer, they will take you by the route you suggest, even if it’s longer; if you give no answer at all, they’ll pick a random route.
(Someone less charitable than me might suggest that this is because none of them know where anything is.)